The word “seed” gets bandied about a lot in early March. Sure, you could be talking about springtime lawn and garden preparations, but around these parts it usually refers to the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
A high regional seed doesn’t guarantee a trip to the Final Four, of course, but most involved with college basketball will tell you a spot near the top of the bracket is worth pursuing, as it usually means more favorable matchups in the early rounds.
Much remains to be determined on the final weekend of the men’s season. Several programs with national title aspirations look to stay in the hunt for one of those coveted No. 1 seeds, while others are just trying to optimize their level of play heading into conference tournament week.
Here are the five best games of the weekend, though you’ll want to pay attention to other conferences that will be crowning their champions as well.
No. 4 Illinois at No. 10 Ohio State
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
It seems quite likely that the Big Ten will snag at least one No. 1 seed, if not two. The Buckeyes will have to overcome a recent skid to get back into position for one, and a win against the Fighting Illini would certainly help. Illinois is also seeking a top spot, however, and the Illini should be a confident group after finding ways to win without leading scorer Ayo Dosunmu. He might be back by the weekend, but the performance of backcourt mates Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo in his absence has been encouraging. OSU’s high-scoring duo of E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington will try to counter.
No. 18 Texas Tech at No. 3 Baylor
Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
Baylor’s place on the top line of the bracket is probably safe. But the Bears would like to regain the form they were displaying before having to pause for COVID-19 concerns. Jared Butler in particular wasn’t quite himself when the team returned to action, but his huge night in Tuesday’s overtime win at No. 5 West Virginia was a good sign. He followed that with 22 points in a Thursday night win over No. 18 Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders are not in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but they’ve struggled against the Big 12’s upper echelons since their Feb. 1 takedown of Oklahoma. Mac McClung is capable of heating up at any time, but he’s going to need help to beat a deep squad like Baylor.
No. 17 Oklahoma State at No. 5 West Virginia
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2
Elsewhere in the Large Dozen-minus-two, the Mountaineers get another chance at a quality victory to enhance their claim to at worst a No. 2 seed. But the Cowboys, thanks to a recent sweep of Bedlam rival Oklahoma, appear to be peaking at the right time. Their latest worry is top NBA prospect Cade Cunningham, who rolled his left ankle in the closing minute of Thursday night’s loss to No. 3 Baylor. Cunningham rightly gets much of the attention for Oklahoma State, but the contributions of hard-working facilitator Isaac Likekele shouldn’t be overlooked. But the Cowboys’ visit to WVU in a quick turnaround from Thursday night’s trip to Baylor isn’t ideal. Though usually known for pressure defense, WVU can run an effective offense as well with Miles McBride at the point.
Wisconsin at No. 8 Iowa
Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, Fox
Back in the Big Ten, the slumping Badgers try to pick up a needed road victory against the Hawkeyes, who are hoping to retain their recent momentum entering the league tournament. Wisconsin isn’t in bubble trouble yet but has dropped five of its past seven contests, with the wins coming against Northwestern and Nebraska in the league’s bottom tier. The Badgers’ difficulties containing Purdue big man Zach Edey in their last outing doesn’t bode well as they prepare to face the Hawkeyes’ Luka Garza, so they’ll likely need to exceed their season average of 35.2% accuracy from three-point range to keep up.
No. 20 Virginia at Louisville
Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
The season of COVID-19 has been hard on everybody, of course, but the Cardinals have struggled to come back from lengthy pauses on a couple of occasions already. They had yet another game canceled this week at Virginia Tech, adding an extra sense of urgency to this home finale with U.Va. The Cavaliers could use a positive result themselves on the eve of the ACC tournament. They did manage to snap a three-game slide Monday against Miami, but Louisville’s overall athleticism will pose a challenge.
Follow colleges reporter Eddie Timanus on Twitter @EddieTimanus